The so-called national football championship was getting to be a New Year's Day jinx until Oklahoma put an abrupt stop to such nonsense in the Orange Bowl last Monday. Only once since Texas A&M won in the Sugar Bowl in 1940 had the champ come through in a bowl game. However, the Sooners of Coach Bud Wilkinson, rated first in this year's final Associated Press standings, proved their priority at Miami by grinding out a 20-6 victory over Maryland, which ranked third.
For students of the ABCs of football, this Orange Bowl game was a required textbook. Oklahoma and Maryland, two of the split-T's most polished models, cranked through each other's lines for short gains, accomplishing their purposes with brawn and precision instead of guile. It was a reminder that with something like 80% of the college teams now using this type of offense, football is reverting to the low-scoring game it was before Clark Shaughnessy introduced the T at Stanford in 1940.
In the case of these Maryland and Oklahoma teams, the edge was with the quicker, tougher linemen. During the early part of the game Maryland had this advantage and built a 6-0 lead by half time. Yet there was only one exciting explosion—when Maryland Halfback Ed Vereb skittered through a hole in the right side at his own 24-yard line, cut sharply to the left and ran untouched until he was caught just 10 yards from a touchdown. Even then, Maryland fumbled before it could score.
A few minutes later Maryland plodded to the Oklahoma 15-yard line. Vereb, unable to pass, simply tucked the ball under his arm and scampered to the corner of the field for a touchdown. The conversion was blocked, and that, as far as excitement went, was the first half.
Oklahoma returned to the field in the second half with the dash and poise that had carried Wilkinson's teams to 29 consecutive victories in three years. Two complete teams, performing like stamped replicas, shuttled in and out of the game. The first team got the ball first when Tommy McDonald returned a Maryland punt past midfield. Seven crunching plays later they had their touchdown and converted it to lead 7-6. Less than five minutes later the second team took the ball at midfield and duplicated the performance. Now needing two touchdowns to win, Maryland tried passing, but these split-T teams don't pass too well (Oklahoma completed four of 10, Maryland three of 10), and the Sooners intercepted whenever a serious threat developed. Halfback Carl Dodd carried the second of these interceptions 82 yards for Oklahoma's third score.
The major difference in these two precisely drilled teams showed when the slightly smaller but quicker moving Oklahoma linemen found their timing. Maryland Coach Jim Tatum, who felt he had been out-substituted by Wilkinson in losing their 1954 Orange Bowl game, this time followed the Sooner lead in alternating his teams, but it made no difference. Oklahoma, huddling only briefly, then sprinting to position and snapping the ball with almost no hesitation, kept the defense on its heels. They also used their favorite pitchout pass, as diagrammed in SI's Scouting Report, just enough to keep the Maryland defense from ganging up. In fact, that play set up the team's first score when McDonald threw to Bob Burris for 19 yards.
After it was over, Wilkinson summed up his happiness with a coach's perfect tribute: "We played the way we have wanted to play all season."
Maryland's Tatum agreed: "They were better in every department. Oklahoma is definitely the best football team in the country."
WINNING RIDE CHEERS COACH WILKINSON